Snoopy vs. The Red Baron

Paws-on with the World War I flying ace's adventure.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 4, 2006
There are few icons, in any medium, as powerful as Snoopy. Charles Schulz, before he finally passed on in early 2000, must have died with a big, huge grin on his face knowing the simple, endearing characters he created 50 years earlier will live on into infinity. The Peanuts characters as a whole are unpretentious. They lack the 'tude and XTREEMness of today's animated icons and yet they're still almost universally loved.

Maybe that's why we were so interested in seeing how well Smart Bomb Interactive's treatment of the game was coming along. After all one of the coolest parts of the Peanuts strips was when Snoopy would daydream of taking his doghouse out against World War I flying ace Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen -- better known to most as the Red Baron -- Snoopy's aerial nemesis.

We'd originally hoped that the game would be one of those cool little crossover concepts that worked just as well for the young audience that it was aimed at as the big kids that are tripping down memory lane. Sadly, it seems we didn't get our wish, but again, this isn't a game aimed at us. It certainly does support big kid video options, though; both 16:9 widescreen and progressive scan are in, as well as Dolby Pro Logic II for those with receivers that can decode that.

Though we goofed around a little with Dog Fight Mode, the two-player split-screen option, it was in the meet of the Campaign Mode where we saw the most promise. Before heading out in imagined missions to take on not just the Baron himself but the whole of the Central Powers during the era, we had to sit through some basic flight classes. Broken down into three parts that taught basic flight controls, turbo/air brakes, more advanced moves like a Split-S, loop and barrel rolls, and the different weapons available (including an adorable one where Woodstock rides a missile), Flight School taught us the basics (all while riding a doghouse, of course).

The actual Campaigns were fought in a biplane, however, just like in Snoopy's imagination, and it's here that the game actually shows some impressive muscle. A never-ending stream of enemies to take down spawn, from ground targets like drills and tanks to U-Boats and ships at sea and of course other planes, blimps and, uh, balloons to hit. The game's objectives are always shown on the radar, with enemy targets in red and mission-specific objectives in yellow.

The few missions we played were skewed toward the younger crowd with liberal power-ups and health recovery items, and the game coaxes the player toward objectives (many of which were of the dreaded escort or protect variety), but to avoid frustration, there's plenty of leeway to fly around and blow stuff up before it becomes a serious issue. Snoopy's plane can be outfitted with better weapons and plane upgrades to make the objectives a little easer, bought with coins earned during the fights, and at the end of every mission, we were graded on our performance and given an appropriate medal.

What's impressive about the whole mess is that it runs rather smoothly. There were some framerate jitters here and there when a lot of stuff was on screen, but for the most part, the game ran at a very respectable clip -- far better than earlier builds seen at E3 and Namco's press events earlier in the year. The controls felt fluid and tight, and mapping more advanced moves like loops and barrel rolls to their own buttons made avoiding attacks plenty intuitive.